Three local women will begin a support group in May for those who've lost loved ones to suicide.
Peggy Reed-Lohmeyer, assistant director of social work at Fulton State Hospital; Pam Phelps, Callaway County Medical Reserve Corps director; and Heather Patton, director of Youth Ministry at First Christian Church; have completed training through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and will hold the first support group 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, May 6, at First Christian Church.
Melody Seiger, AFSP Field Advocate for Callaway County, lost her mother 20 years ago to suicide, during a time in which she had access to only general grief support groups. It wasn't until she attended college she was able to connect with others who were also dealing with, what she describes as, "a different type of grief" the comes with a different set of questions.
"(In school) I understood that I wasn't dealing with this alone," Seiger said.
Patton said the stigma of suicide often hinders people from openly discussing their emotions, but a suicide survivors support group will allow people to share experiences.
"People can come talk with others without the fear of being judged," Patton said.
Those who have lost someone to suicide many years ago in addition to people who have recently been affected, are welcomed to join in the group's discussions, Reed-Lohmeyer said.
"Then, you learn from each other and the experiences people had," Reed-Lohmeyer said.
Groups will be divided in two: teenagers and adults.
"Teens tend to feel more comfortable with a group of peers," Reed-Lohmeyer said.
Patton added that separating the age groups will allow, for example, parents and their children to openly talk about their loss with people of their own age and will prevent any judgment within a family.
For the first thirty minutes or so of a meeting, participants will have an opportunity to socialize and enjoy snacks. The following hour will be discussion and meetings will close with more social interaction. Patton said this allows people to freely connect with one another and continue to share stories.
Suicide survivors support groups, Seiger said, help the grieving to progress while honoring loves ones lost.
"It helps us remember them, but not be stuck in our grief," Seiger said.
The support group is a step toward the formation of a Central Missouri chapter of the AFSP, which will include more than 17 counties, Seiger said. Reed-Lohmeyer, Phelps and Patton sit on the board of the chapter in formation.
Seiger said donations from Out of the Darkness walks funded training for Reed-Lohmeyer, Phelps and Patton.
The support group will meet 6-8 p.m. the first Tuesday every month at First Christian Church.
For those struggling with suicide or mental illness, call 1-800-273-TALK for help and information.